I was intrigued by an intelligent comment on Twitter, by @EricsElectrons, who put this nugget of truth out there and I got all excited about its process of intellectual elimination:
Everyone discusses problems.
Very few can come up with practical solutions.
Even fewer can objectively weigh all costs and benefits of all proposed solutions and then put into practice the best tradeoffs to correct for current problems.
Then I realized that he’s doing a great job describing the decision-making process cities go through when making city making decisions. This process of elimination is a form of subsidiarity enabling those few elected decision-makers to determine how we fix problems. the steps are:
First, a problem is identified, because everyone discusses problems. Let’s say for this post the problem is not enough middle-income housing in San Diego. How to solve for building more middle income housing in an economically hot coastal city is difficult and there are few practical solutions as most are complicated and convoluted that take time to realize. We understand the problem and we state a vision, “We need more middle-income and affordable housing in San Diego!” We’ve done this for many years with our city council declaring a ‘housing crisis’ annually.
And, because these complicated policy and long-range time fixes in need of multiple groups to enable, very few can come up with practical solutions. So, we need a plan that starts with the vision stated above, as well as practical solutions listed by planning scenarios that illustrate the costs and benefits (CEQA is a state law that is supposed to simply disclose the costs of new development) with objective-based data, such as this much VMT, GhG, number of housing units, retail, and so on. These plans codify the road map to get from problem to solution. The value of plans is to avoid duplication and waste of public investments, unite citizens to work towards a common vision/future, and show us practical, sensible ways of providing a place for everything we need to live in a more sustainable city.
Third, our elected and appointed leaders, we only have a few (zoning administrator, planning commission, city council, mayor, city attorney – why – and, county supervisors and commissioners opine on city making decisions) who are allowed/enabled to objectively weigh all costs and benefits of the planned solutions and then approve/put into practice the best tradeoffs to fix our stated problems. For middle income housing, the city of San Diego is choosing to use tools in our our Affordable Housing program and Complete Communities program in an attempt to solve our oft-stated problem. So, Eric is right… and rational.
The steps to solve for identified problems that affects everyone stats with understanding the problem, making a vision statement for our intended outcome, and then making codes and plans for ways to fix the problem. This direction is then decided by a select few who weight the costs/benefits using objective data.